Opinion: Hunger on the Horn of Africa is not caused by climate change | Africa | DW | 14.03.2017
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Hunger in East Africa

Opinion: Hunger on the Horn of Africa is not caused by climate change

It's a familiar sight in parts of East Africa - starving children, desiccated carcasses and parched landscapes. 17 million face the threat of hunger. It's a man-made crisis, says Ludger Schadomsky.

When United Nations agencies appeal for aid for Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda, then one cannot but notice that these very countries are governed by corrupt and cynical politicians who have scant regard for democracy. They ride roughshod over human rights and ignite ethnic and religious conflicts to shore up their hold on power.

Somalia? It can no longer be described as a state any more and languishes at the bottom of the global corruption indices. South Sudan? Has oil reserves, but instead of exporting crude, it displaces millions of civilians in an orgy of ethnic violence. Tiny Eritrea? Where there was once hope, there now stands Eritrea, the North Korea of Africa, hermetically sealed off and governed by a clique that has its finger in the pie of traffickers smuggling people to Europe.

Ethiopia - a potentially rich, but depressed country

No country illustrates the link between bad governance and hunger more clearly than Ethiopia. The strategically located country on the Horn of Africa is the home of the coffee bean for a very good reason. Two rainy seasons and the Blue Nile could spell record harvests for Africa's second most populous nation. But this doesn't happen. Instead the country has faced hunger since the 1970s and a flow of departing refugees. More recently, hundreds of demonstrators have been killed and opponents of the regime thrown into jail. If 85 million people live off the land and an authoritarian regime bans land ownership and only distributes seed to members of the ruling party, then the outcome can only be a vicious circle of poverty and hunger. This, of course, does not prevent the German government from ensuring that Ethiopia is generously supplied with aid.

Nobody doubts that there are numerous external factors at work which are exacerbating food insecurity on the Horn of Africa. Climate change and the ensuing degradation of once fertile soil are triggering more disputes over pasture and water supplies. The exodus from rural areas by pastoralists and farmers is causing the cities to burst at the seams. The terror spread by Islamist Stone Age warriors, such as al-Shabab in Somalia, is stopping farmers from cultivating the land. But all these factors - especially in the presence of properly coordinated aid from abroad - could be brought under control, assuming power was in the hands of responsible politicians. But in Africa these days, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

This is the uncomfortable truth and the German government would do well to face up to it. Development minister Gerd Müller is currently trying to canvass support for a "Marshall Plan with Africa" - an ambitious yet ill-defined development and recovery program for the continent. The difference between the original Marshall Plan and Müller's scheme is that the recipients back in 1948 were really determined to get back on their feet after the calamity of World War Two.

Picture of Ludger Schadomsky

Ludger Schadomsky is the head of DW's Amharic service

The thinking behind the German Marshall Plan, and it is not entirely new, is to persuade young Africans to stay in their home countries by creating jobs for them. It is therefore not really a recovery program, but an attempt to keep migrants out of Europe.

But when governments in the North, the German government included, sign dubious deals (euphemistically labeled 'migration  partnerships') with rogue states such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan to control migrant flows then they are indirectly fuelling the next hunger crisis. The message being sent to governments in Addis Ababa, Asmara and Mogadishu is that corruption and human rights violations pay.

The next hunger crisis is coming

This current hunger crisis, like previous ones, will pass. The machinery of international aid, a well-established multi-billion dollar industry in the donor countries, has already sprung into action.  Temporary clinics for undernourished children have been set up and high nutrition biscuits are being handed round. But in a few years time, there will be another hunger crisis. And local people, livestock and the soil will have less and less time to recover as the cycles become shorter.

There is a myth in circulation which says that hunger in Africa is a climate phenomenon. It is really a myth, nothing else. Hunger, especially on the Horn of Africa, is man-made. It is the work of politicians and elites. Policymakers in 2017, the year of Germany's G20 presidency in which Africa is to play a big role, should respond accordingly.